Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mark McGwire Apologizes His Way to a Hall of Fame Case

I don't know if you heard, but Mark McGwire, admitted taking steroids, apologized and gave a nice detailed history of his use. First off, before I go further, does anyone else find it funny that Jose Canseco is as the number one similar batter. Anyway. Apparently the admission and apology raised some eye brows and opened the book for his hall of fame case. Regardless of use, do his numbers merit an induction to the hall of fame? There are three areas where one can excel as a non pitcher baseball player: defense, hitting and base running.


Like Andre Dawson in the previous post, we have to go by "what they say" in regards to defense because the advanced measures are nonexistent. He won one Gold Glove in 1990 and was considered an average defensive first baseman.

Base Running:

McGwire stole 12 bases and was caught stealing eight times in his career.


We already knew going into building McGwire's hall of fame case that defense and base running were not going to be favorable points. His non home run counting stats would make a hyper kid on a pixie rush yawn. 7,660 plate appearances, 1,626 hits, 252 doubles and 6 triples. You look at the hits and think, "Well, so what if he had 582 home runs. He's another Dave Kingman."

But is he?

I left out one key non home run counting stat. He walked 1,317 times. In 7,429 plate appearances, Kingman had 1,575 hits and walked 608 times.

McGwire is no Kingman. Of course we don't look at counting stats for building a case. I brought them up to diffuse the argument that he didn't get enough hits and was only a home run hitter. The big three rate stats: .263/.394/.588 for a 162 OPS+--62% above the average hitter during his time. As a hitter--and I stress hitter--the recently elected Andre Dawson had a 119 OPS+ for his career.

The more traditional slash stats and the home run and walk counting stats are hall of fame numbers. If you look a little deeper and look at some more advanced stats, you will see he had a career WARP of 69.5--meaning he was 69.5 wins better than a replacement player.

For good measure, I will finally take a look at the seasons McGwire did not admit steroid use. From the story, "He said he first used steroids between the 1989 and 1990 seasons, after helping the Athletics to a World Series sweep when he and Jose Canseco formed the Bash Brothers." Let's assume that he is telling the truth and 1987, 1988 and 1989 are his only clean seasons. What kind of hitter was he then? He hit a rookie record 49 home runs in 1987 and then followed that up with 32 and 33 home run seasons. Okay, we know the guy can mash. He had seasons of 164 OPS+, 134 OPS+ and 129 OPS+. He did have a very disappointing .339 OBP in 1989. Still, those seasons do not give indication that he was a scrub.

The Fear:

I think it's funny that Jim Rice and Andre Dawson's campaigns were built around fear instead of actual numbers. Let's just use that subjective word and put it on McGwire. Would it be fitting? McGwires 162 game average for the, what I would consider, fearsome stats is 50 home runs and 114 walks. Jim Rice's 162 game average in the fearsome stats are 30 home runs and 52 walks. Dawson's 162 game average for fearsome stats is 27 home runs and, gulp, 36 walks. I know, different eras, used counting stats, etc. But if people are going to build a player's case around fear, that's no different than me coming up with my own definition of fear.

The Verdict:

Mark McGwire is not getting in the hall of fame on defense and base running, and as a first base man, that's not necessary. The question is, was he a hall of fame hitter? At first glance, there's an argument against his hit totals. That argument is killed based on the number of walks. Most times when he got a hit, he made the most of it: 589 home runs. The rate stats tell the story of a hall of famer. His slugging and getting on base skills made him 62% better than the average player. It's not like the man was average in his early years. He is clearly a hall of famer.

The Fall Out:

The big question is: will writers vote for him now that he has admitted and apologized to steroid use? My question: why does that matter? This isn't the hall of fame of honesty and fake tears. I think that a few more voters will check his name, but it will be years until he even has a chance. It might be a case where McGwire is on the ballot for the 12th year, and a St. Louis columnist starts a FEAR campaign while other voters jump on board. While probably appropriate, sometimes all it takes to make it to the hall of fame is a strong verb.

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